Lesser-Known U.S. Destinations to Add to Your 2024 Itineraries
Anything but tourist traps.
Always looking for the next big thing is no easy feat. And part of the fun is feeling like you've stumbled upon a hidden gem that hasn't hit the mainstream yet. That said, we’re here to shed some light on some unsung winners off the beaten U.S. travel path. Instead of falling for tourist traps, check out these inviting spots around the U.S. from West Virginia to Wisconsin.
Get a taste of Germany sans passport in this Texas town about an hour northwest of San Antonio. Founded in 1846 by German immigrants, this Hill Country destination is best experienced with oenophiles — there's an urban wine trail and vineyards where you can walk through vines (see: Grape Creek Vineyards or Becker Vineyards). Plus, wine geeks will also love Kuhlman Cellars, where five wines are paired with chef-prepared small bites. Beyond sipping, savor delicious fare at Fischer & Wieser Specialty Foods or Cabernet Grill (okay, drink the wine there, too, as it’s said to have the largest wine list in the state). Once you’re full from dessert at Fredericksburg Pie Company, get your culture fix at The National Museum of the Pacific War, a Smithsonian Affiliate, or The Pioneer Museum Complex, which tells the stories of 19th-century German Pioneer days. The historical Sunday houses originally housed early settlers when they traveled from farms into town for supplies and, fittingly, Sunday church services. You can channel that pioneering spirit by staying at Sunday house replicas throughout Fredericksburg like the Metzger Sunday House, Hill Country Herb Garden (which also has a spa and restaurant on-site), Outlot 201 Guest Houses, and Ololo.
West Virginia is called “almost heaven” for a reason. When visiting the Mountain State, make Lewisburg your home base. About an hour away from the nation’s newest National Park, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, downtown Lewisburg is brimming with antique shops and art galleries. You'll also find eclectic restaurants like The French Goat, which serves up French culinary classics, and The Humble Tomato, which takes locavore sourcing obsession to new heights. If the schedule stars align, finish a day downtown with a concert at Carnegie Hall, erected in 1901 and one of only four Carnegie Halls in the world that is still in continuous use as a performance venue. Book your stay on behalf of the crew at The Historic General Lewis Inn, which nails the Southern hospitality thing in its suites and rooms in restored 1834 and 1928 historic buildings. Or stay at beloved resort, The Greenbrier, about 15 minutes away in White Sulphur Springs, which has about a million and one things to do from its casino, spa, and golf course to sleigh rides, bowling, and an indoor tennis club. Whichever digs you choose, be sure to break in your sneaks on the Greenbrier River Trail, a 78-mile former railroad line where you can hike, bike, or horseback ride your way through, well, almost heavenly landscapes.
Hot Springs, AR
Hot Springs is more than just the gateway for visiting Hot Springs National Park (though touring the fascinating historic bath house/visitor center, Fordyce Bathhouse, is a veritable treat, as is hitting the trails). You’ll find amazing food (see: The Pancake Shop for classic breakfast fare in a down-home setting; Kollective Coffee + Tea, which has a sizable vegan menu; Superior Bathhouse Brewery for elevated pub fare paired with spring water-infused beers; and DONS Southern Social for Brooklyn speakeasy vibes and Southern classics with a modern spin.) You’ll also find amazing spirits (Origami Sake is a must, as is ordering a loaded Bloody Mary at the historic Ohio Club). Book some rooms at the darling B&B The Reserve and you’ll feel teleported into a gentler, grander era with modern amenities — all just a quick ride share (or half-hour-ish walk) from downtown.
Door County, WI
Is your crew all about kayaking? Well, in “the Door,” you can paddle along limestone bluffs and through protected estuaries. Fun fact: Schoolhouse Beach claims to be one of five beaches in the world with all white limestone “polished” rocks. Cheeseheads? You’re in Wisconsin, after all, but opportunities to indulge shine here, especially at Wisconsin Cheese Masters and Renard’s Artisan Cheese. How about lighthouse enthusiasts? Well, there are 11 in the county. Spanning the 70-mile-long peninsula between the waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan, there are 34 named islands and a smattering of small towns with unique personalities. Among our favorite hamlets is Sister Bay, where you can stay at The Dörr Hotel, dripping with Scandinavian inspiration, and dine at spots like Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik (the Swedish pancakes with lingonberries are divine) and Sister Bay Bowl and Supper Club, with Wisconsin bread and butter: fried lake perch and cheese curds. Before your time here is up, swing by Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm, Shop & Le Cafe — you’ll blow a mini fortune on lavender-infused everything so you can take a bit of Door County goodness back home.
Heeeeeeeeere’s Norfolk! Did you know The Tonight Show host Johnny Carson grew up and got his start in show business here by performing his magic act in and around town? In addition to Carson-philes, Norfolk is also where cowboys (and girls) come to play. As a trailhead for the 195-mile Cowboy Trail, you can hike, bike, or walk your way around these parts by starting at the trailhead in Ta-Ha-Zouka Park, where you can camp beside the Elkhorn River. If you and your BFFs enjoy water sports, fish or connect with NorthFork Outfitting for kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or pedal boat rentals. Hit the Great Plains hay not with the cattle, but at the decidedly more chic RiverPoint Inn, an eight-room boutique hotel that’s a stone’s throw away from downtown bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues. Next door you'll find Divots Downtown Tap and Dine, where the wood-fired pizza or pasta bakes are sublime. While in Norfolk, patrons have the chance to support a range of woman-owned businesses like Magnolias for home decor, Love & Threads for fashion-forward frocks, and I Bee Quiltin for incredible fabric finds.
Start planning now to visit this gem in southern New Hampshire. May we recommend Medal Day at Macdowell in July? MacDowell bills itself as the nation’s oldest artists’ residency and retreat and has hosted the likes of Leonard Bernstein, John Updike, Georgia O'Keeffe, I.M. Pei, and Toni Morrison. The retreat is rarely open to the public, so come for Medal Day and stay for summer beauty in the Monadnock region, whether in the form of sprawling vistas in Miller State Park, scoping out colonial-style homes and historic buildings downtown, or poolside at the lovely Cranberry Meadow Farm, the perfect B&B for your friends or family, situated on 80 acres. Round out your stay with a meal at Pearl Restaurant and Oyster Bar and fill your book bag at Toadstool Bookstore.
Thousand Islands, NY
First, it’s worth clarifying that yes, the famous salad dressing hails from Thousand Islands. Second, Thousand Islands comprises several resort communities in New York and across the border in Ontario, Canada (what follows is all on the U.S. side of things). This archipelago first had us intrigued with the chance to visit a castle (specifically, the 120-room Boldt Castle in Alexandria Bay, built in 1900 and will reopen to tourists seasonally in May 2024). It hooked us with scenic cruises, cycling, cross-country skiing, and more outdoor diversions than even a type-A trip planner can cram into your itinerary. Speaking of cross-country skiing, you’ll want to head to Wellesley Island State Park in neighboring Fineview in the winter, and for hiking and swimming in the St. Lawrence River in warmer weather months. Post up at the riverside Harbor Hotel in Clayton, and suds up at 1812 Brewing Company in Sackets Harbor on the lapping shores of Lake Ontario, where the dining room and outside deck boast expansive views of the lake and sunsets. Or swap beers for more of Boldt’s splendors and grab a meal seasonally at Windows On The Bay, part of the Riveredge Resort and overlooking the castle.
Iowa City, IA
Dubbed as a UNESCO “City of Literature,” (in no small part thanks to the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop) Iowa City is perfect for getting your head lost in a book. Start by browsing the stacks at Prairie Lights Books, the Haunted Bookshop, Sidekick Coffee & Books, or one of the many other bibliophile havens around town. You can also soak up plenty of culture at the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, the Old Capitol Museum, or by gallery hopping downtown. When you’re not adding books to your Goodreads profile, log steps on the 13-mile Iowa River Corridor Trails. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, make a reservation for the whole gang at farm-to-table steak temple, Iowa Chop House, or grab a table under the string lights (when weather allows) at Big Grove Brewery for beer and comfort food like giant baked pretzels, crispy cauliflower, and a vegan banh mi sandwich. Get up and get ready to do it all over again at The Highlander Hotel, originally built in 1976 as a supper club destination and recently renovated into upscale accommodations.
Those headed to Alaska often venture to parts a bit better known like Anchorage, Denali National Park and Preserve, and Fairbanks for Aurora Borealis chasing. Instead, venture to Alaska's Inside Passage, where you’ll get an ideal mix of outdoor adventure, learn about Alaska Native culture, and experience a lively downtown right on the waterfront. For your lodgings, consider the Cape Fox Lodge, which is located on a hillside overlooking Tongass National Forest (book a room in the detached lodges instead of the main house for water views of the Tongass Narrows). In the summer, snorkeling at Ketchikan's Mountain Point gets an A+ with Snorkel Alaska, an outfitter that provides wetsuits and all necessary gear — all you have to do is keep your eyes peeled for humpback whales. For above sea-level fun, you can also easily spend a few hours wandering along Creek Street's boardwalks and popping into the colorful buildings which house boutiques, galleries, and restaurants (Creek Street is also a great place to watch salmon spawning in July and August). Another worthwhile way to while away your day is by venturing to Saxman Native Village to view Alaska Native totem poles (and totem pole carvers honing their craft in the carving shed), a clan house, and Alaskan Native dance performances. When you need some time off your feet and fuel for your next activity in the Last Frontier, try freshly-caught seafood at Alaska Fish House or at Annabelle's Famous Keg and Chowder House.